An 'aggressive biter': There's a new tick to worry about in Quebec and Ontario
As the snow melts, grass grows, and the sun comes out, Montrealers in short pants are not the only species to emerge in the parks and trails of the region.
It is also tick time.
In Quebec, there are about a dozen species of tick of the around 40 in Canada. Of those, around four interact with humans, the most concerning being the blacklegged (deer) tick (Ixodes scapularis) that can carry Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria).
"Ticks, and the blacklegged tick that everyone is talking about, do very much like humidity, cool weather, so as soon as there's no more snow cover on the ground, they will begin their activity," said Bishop's University professor Jade Savage, who runs the website eTick, which monitors tick activity across the country.
A new species that public health authorities are monitoring with concern is the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), which has been spotted but is not yet established north of the U.S. border.
Climate change and habitat loss are making it almost inevitable that the arthropods that typically live in the southeastern United States and Mexico will show up more often in Canada.
"Everybody knows that the lone star tick is slowly moving northward, a little like what we saw with the blacklegged tick almost 30 years ago," said Savage. "The lone star tick is expected by many to be the next step primarily because we're getting warmer winters."
The ticks' presence is a concern because with the new species comes new pathogens, Savage said, and the lone star tick, in particular, is "an aggressive biter."
"It is definitely not something anybody wants to see established in Canada, but the probability of this happening are relatively high," she said.
Lone star ticks were reported in Ontario twice in 2023, and around two dozen times in 2022. The species has been reported five times in Quebec since 2017.
If you see a tick, the best advice is to take a picture of it and submit it on the eTick site. Someone from the site will contact you and advise you of what action, if any, to take.
Quebec public health advises the following to avoid tick bites:
- Wear long clothing.
- Use a DEET or icaridin-based mosquito repellent.
- Walk along trails.
- Maintain yards and cut long grass, especially in areas children play in.
Savage said the best strategy to limit the risks of contracting Lyme disease is to check for ticks when you get home.
"If any ticks are found, it can be removed swiftly and if a black-legged tick less than 24 hours after it was attached, the probability of contracting the disease is much lower," said Savage. "Prevention is the ideal strategy."
Montreal public health issued a prescription for pharmacists to offer post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to anyone bitten by a tick that may have contracted Lyme disease.
Cases of Lyme disease continue to rise. Quebec reported 125 cases in 2014, 304 in 2018 and 709 in 2021.
The expanding deer population in Quebec also means more ticks and more Lyme disease. Though ticks travel on many animals, Savage said the size and range of deer make them ideal ways for the insects to travel.
"Deer are literally like tick buses," said Savage. "They are a very suitable habitat for the ticks and because they travel long distances, they definitely contribute to the distribution of ticks from different types of habitats, and as the deer get closer to urban habitats, they will bring the blacklegged ticks with them.